The deficiency of taurine and alpha-tocopherol results in disturbances of the structure of retinal rod outer segments. In this study the effect of alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E) and taurine on the fluidity of membranes from frog retinal rod outer segments and of liposomes prepared with lecithin or with lipids from outer segment membranes was examined by steady-state fluorescence polarization of diphenyl-hexatriene (DPH). alpha-Tocopherol increased the DPH anisotropy parameter in both preparations. The vitamin modified the breakpoint temperature of Arrhenius plots of DPH anisotropy, and decreased the activation energy. Taurine failed to modify any of the parameters examined in both outer segment membranes and lecithin liposomes. These results suggest a stabilizer role for tocopherol in rod outer segment membranes. In contrast, the requirement of taurine to maintain outer segment structure seems unrelated to an effect on the physical state of membrane lipids.